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David Wood

New VA Medical Center Director on serving those who served

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When David Wood officially starts his new position on Monday, May 21, as the director of the Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Center, he will have plenty of work to do, but he couldn't be happier about coming home.

"A big part of this position being so attractive was absolutely its location," he said.

Wood, 46, grew up in Idaho Falls as the son of a funeral home owner. Not sure about what he wanted to do for a living--he was pretty certain he didn't want to go into the family business--Wood said one of the first classes he took at Ricks College (now BYU Idaho) convinced him to go into health-care administration.

After receiving his bachelors degree at BYU and a master's at Duke University, Wood's assignments with the Veterans Administration included stints in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Oklahoma, where he is wrapping up five years as director of the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center before heading to Boise.

Wood has quite a bit of packing to do. He and his wife have seven children, ages 4 to 22.

How can you best describe to a layperson what you do for a living?

The medical center director is responsible for leading and organizing, regularly evaluating the clinical and administrative functions of the hospital to provide the best support and care that a veteran can receive.

How must our nation's VA facilities be better prepared now that the United States is entering a post-war era?

Some veterans are coming back with loss of limbs. Some are coming back with trauma from blasts. Many are coming back with mental-health issues including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Across the board, the VA has really put a lot of focus on increasing our mental-health staffing. And we're providing much more education for our staff to recognize when a veteran has PTSD, trauma or combat-related injuries.

Idaho just saw 1,500 men and women return home after nearly a year in Iraq. What we have learned is that their health issues, physical and mental, quite often surface long after they've returned.

We really try to be a part of their transition from military to civilian life when they're discharged. Many of the returning veterans may not even recognize that they may need VA services when they get home. We're trying to reach out to help them understand that we're here--that they can come in, get enrolled, and get a primary care provider and any specialty services that they may need.

Idaho is, in many portions, an isolated state. How important are your satellite offices?

Only having a big hospital is a model that the VA had decades ago. But today, we're opening up more community-based clinics for our rural areas. I know that I wouldn't want to travel two or three hours just for a primary care visit.

The number of women veterans is dramatically increasing. Do we need to re-tool our VA facilities to provide more diverse care for females?

Most definitely. Many times, women veterans may walk into a VA and all they see is a lot of men. It can make them feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable, particularly if they have had any kind of sexual trauma or something like that. The VA today is really trying to create an environment where we can attract them to come in and get the services that they're entitled to receive.

Might that drive some of your staffing decisions going forward?

The military makeup is shifting to more and more women. And although they may not be directly involved in combat, women may be exposed to combat situations. Every medical center, including Boise, now has to have a women veterans' coordinator to reach out to female vets.

You've had a number of different assignments at VA facilities around the country. What have you learned to do to be effective when you arrive at a new location?

I need to take time to meet with veterans and staff and understand the unique issues of the Boise facility. The Boise VA Medical Center has a couple of key leadership vacancies right now. One of them is the chief of staff. That's the key clinical leader at the medical center. Also, the chief of surgery recently passed away in a car accident.

That was a tragic, unexpected loss and it has left a key vacancy. Filling those positions will be very high on my list of things to do.

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